Looking over my notes after
interviewing Jumeirah Group CEO Gerald Lawless, I sensed I was not
going to be incorporating many of his quotes into my story about
how Americans fit into Dubai's tourism marketing plans.
Lawless certainly has
a lot to talk about. He has ambitious expansion plans. His flagship
hotel in Dubai, the Burj Al Arab, is consistently rated as one of
the most luxurious in the world. And he outmaneuvered some heavy
hitters to raise the Jumeirah flag over New York's Essex
But no matter what I
asked him about, he managed always to steer the conversation back
to the same topic: the people who work for Jumeirah.
It was clear after
inspecting his properties that Lawless values unique architecture
and design, fine restaurants and cutting-edge technology, but, he
said, "success will come from the people side." He puts great stock
in what he called the "three hallmarks" of Jumeirah service, which
are memorized by employees during training. They are: I will always
smile and greet our guests before they greet me. My first response
to a guest will never be no. I will treat colleagues with respect
I have to admit that
when Lawless first recited these to me during an interview in
October 2005 I thought they could be the marching orders for any of
dozens of luxury chains. They sounded generic. They were what I
supposed a student heard on Day 1 of any introductory luxury hotel
Something else needs
to happen beyond memorization. When I sat down to interview Lawless
in Dubai last month, I had been staying at his Madinat property for
a couple of days, and I was impressed with the service. And I came
to believe it was the third of the hallmarks -- "I will treat
colleagues with respect and integrity" -- that was fundamental to
Jumeirah's success in training.
The sentiment behind
that hallmark won't work if it's practiced only in peer-to-peer
interactions or is simply guidance for influencing middle
management's behavior towards service workers. It has to be
practiced first and foremost in the C-suite, because unhappy staff
at any level will, sooner or later, result in bad customer
experiences. If top management's commitment to employees isn't
genuine, no one will be fooled by lofty lip service.
Lawless engages with
his staff easily, and lights up when he talks about employees. "I
meet with the staff, all the staff, in a program called 'Talkback,'
" he said. "I update everyone on what's happening with the company,
then take questions from the floor.
"It's clear from the
questions that we not only have talent, but sometimes underutilized
talent. I spoke with a Chinese doorman who, it turns out, was an
honors graduate from a hotel school. Afterward, I asked our HR
department to identify colleagues who are underemployed and train
them, equip them to move to a higher position. Even if they leave
us and go back to their own country, they'll have more
Jumeirah staff with
whom I spoke, without exception, said they were pleased to be
working for the company. All employees are provided housing in what
amounts to a self-contained neighborhood, complete with a cafeteria
where all food is complimentary to staff, even on their days off,
and transportation is provided to and from work. Employees also
receive a complimentary flight each year so they can visit their
home country if they wish (there are more than 100 different
nationalities working for Jumeirah).
But those are
essentially benefits, and benefits are not necessarily a reflection
of respect. Something more is at play here.
"I believe we have
had cultural success with our colleagues," Lawless said. "That's
critical in developing an obsession with guest service."
general manager of Madinat Jumeirah, had told me earlier that
"Gerald Lawless is the heart and soul of Jumeirah." That certainly
jibes with my observations of both the man and the company, and it
bodes well for the future of both.
for additional details on this article in the Cover Story of the
March 19 issue of Travel Weekly.